The Greek letter “phi” represents the mathematical Divine Ratio, a formula too complex for my simple brain to comprehend but it is, more significantly in the watch industry, the logo for Baume & Mercier. The brand’s success and recognition over the years can easily be attributed to its own divine ratio; one that has balanced affordability and design.
Baume & Mercier has enjoyed several good years, that much is obvious. I know at least six different people with a B&M watch and nothing but praise for the brand. Ask them if they’d consider buying one now however and the response is never quite as positive. These days, the price for an entry level Baume & Mercier is rising and that’s where the brand has been unhinged from its Divine Ratio.
Can you blame them? In the early noughties, Baume & Mercier established itself as a premier mid-range luxury watchmaker and its backing from the Richemont Group gave it more eminence. Utilising movements from ETA to produce watches that were well-designed, classic in nature and reliable made the brand an easy choice when it came to a first buy. ETA’s decision to stop selling ébauches (unassembled and unfinished movements) meant that brands would then have to disassemble the bought movements before finishing them and then integrating them into their own watches. For a brand under a group as renown as Richemont, the idea of having unfinished movements would be as ludicrous as Rolex having store-wide discounts. Many mid-tier brands then turned to either less known movement suppliers or had to buy from more esteemed and costlier suppliers. In Baume & Mercier’s case, the brand turned to suppliers such as Dubois-Depraz, La Joux-Perret and Sellita, all movement suppliers with differing levels of “prestige”.
As Alexandre Peraldi, the creative director of Baume & Mercier told us, “Our Classima collection uses Sellita, the first level of pricing and then we use the Dubois-Depraz and La Joux-Perret for the higher-end ranges.” This hierarchy in the brand’s own collections is its method of balancing out costs for newcomers to the brand, something increasingly hard to do while having to raise prices for its watches.
The change in selling strategy aside, Baume & Mercier’s strength still lies in its resolve in design. It’s hard to find a brand that has such tight restrictions to the watches it produces. Its motto of “Accept only perfection, only manufacture watches of the highest quality” can be seen through all its collections. From the Classima to the Hampton ranges, the brand’s ethos is obvious – classic, timeless pieces that are discreet. “For me, the best compliment is not when someone says he likes the aesthetic of the watch but when he says that it’s easy to forget that he’s wearing a watch,” Peraldi says. “We’ve had most success when we’re simple, so we don’t want to change that too much.”
When it comes to the sacred act of buying a first luxury watch, Baume & Mercier has always excelled. But it wants to change that up. Thus for this year’s additions to the Clifton range, the brand is focusing on adding complications and functions that any gentleman should need.
The Clifton Big Date Power Reserve and Clifton 8 Day Power Reserve will soon be the mainstays to a collection that has benefitted Baume & Mercier since its introduction in 2013. The brand has chosen a mechanical movement for the 8 Day Power Reserve, encased in a generous 45mm 18k red gold model. To track when you should be winding your watch, Baume & Mercier has chosen to place a discreet power-reserve indicator at nine o’clock on the dial without visibly cluttering it too much. The eight-day power reserve is provided by a single barrel and minimises inaccuracy through a mechanism that disables the balance at the end of 192 hours when the available energy becomes insufficient to ensure the accuracy of the movement. This model will be limited to 185 only, marking the anniversary of the brand.
The other addition to the range, the Big Date Power Reserve is built in a 43mm polished and satin-finished stainless steel case and showcases the bare essentials of what a watch should have. Arabic numerals on a clean dial make the Clifton Big Date Power Reserve an easy to pair watch. It’s also powered by a mechanical self-winding calibre and features a big date in an aperture positioned at 12 o’clock.
For Baume & Mercier, the brand’s insistence on balancing its own divine ratio between affordability and design can only be described as difficult at a time like today. With most mid-tier brands generally increasing their prices, competition is tough.
That said, there’s just something commendable about a brand that refuses to give in and soldiers on, creating products that cater to first-time watch buyers like it has done for most of its history.
(First published February 2015)